Notebook, 1993-


POTTERY AND PORCELAIN - Glossary - A List of Museums and Galleries - Ceramics - [A materials resource site with links]

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Pottery & Porcelain - American

'I like fine things Even when They are not mine, And canot become mine; I still enjoy them.' - This translated from Pennsylvania dialect, appears on a sgraffiato plate signed by Johannes Leman, made before 1830 at the Friedrich Hildebrand pottery near Tyler's Port, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.

Everything needed for the production of pottery was present in America - everything but the most important, enough encouragement. Potter's clays were abundant. The common red-burning clays [for bricks, roof tiles, coarse redware] occurred in shales at or near the ground's surface, and their use since earliest days had called for only the simplest kilns and equipment. Buff-burning clays of finer texture were employed since the seventeenth century for experimental wares of every grade, and in the 1800s provided a range of factory-made wares from Bennington to Baltimore, and westward along the Ohio River.

White-burning pipe clay had been used by the aborigines. In a court trial of 1685, at Burlington, New Jersey, the potter, 'Wm. Winn Attested sayth that hee can finde noe Clay in the Countrey that will make white wear', but white tobacco pipes were made as early as 1690 in Philadelphia, where in 1720 they were advertised by Richard Warder 'Tobacco Pipe Maker living under the same Roof with Phillip Sying Gold Smith'. And by 1738 'an earth' [the true kaolin, white china clay] was found by Andrew Duché on the back of Virginia', a vein of unaker running through the Carolinas into Georgia, exposed on river banks or along old stream beds.

Stoneware clays were absent in New England, but supplies were fetched by boat from northern New Jersey and Staten Island. At the Corselius [afterwards Crolius] pottery on Potbaker's HiIl, 'the first stoneware kiln or furnace was built in this year 1730' on lower Manhattan Island. In January of that year in Philadelphia, Anthony Duché and his sons had petitioned the Assembly for support in 'the Art of making stone-ware', to which they had been applying themselves' for several Years past'.

If the wanted clays were not near at hand, coastwise vessels and riverboats brought them. Materials for glaze or decoration were of simple and available sorts. Fuel for the potter's kiln was everywhere in this forested land.

Men with technical knowledge were here among the first. Brick making was reported by 1612 in Virginia, 1629 and 1635 in Salem and Boston. Roof tiles or 'tile Earth for House covering' appeared in Massachusetts court orders of 1646, and 'tyle-makers' prospered in Virginia by 1649. The potter Philip Drinker arrived in 1635 in Charlestown, and that same year at nearby Salem the 'potbakers' William Vinson [Vincent] and John Pride were recorded. One 'extraordinary potter' came in 1653 to Rensselaerwyk [Albany] on the ship Graef, and a Dirck Claesen 'Pottmaker' was established by 1657 at Potbaker's Corner, in New Amsterdam. The thumping of the potter's wheel was soon heard in every colonial town of consequence, and for New England alone [says Lura W. Watkins] 250 potters were recorded by 1800, twice that number by 1850. How many more were never mentioned at all?

Place names like Potter's Creek, Clay City, or Pottertown give a clue to the spread of activity - four states had a Jugtown, seven more a Kaolin.

All that was lacking was a proper market. In numbers the colonists were so few, a total of 200,000 by 1690 and the five leading towns accounting for only 18,600. The population nearly doubled every twenty years, so that by 1776 its total reached 2,500,000 [about equally divided between the five Southern and eight Northern provinces] and Philadelphia, with 40,000 souls, was the second city in the British dominions. Ninety per cent of the population was on the land, and for the most part comprised a sort of [p. 403] village society. The complaint was everywhere the same as in Virginia, that 'for want of Towns, Markets, and Money, there is but little Encouragement for tradesmen and Art ficers'. It was all very well for a Boston official to say [1718] that 'Every one Incourages the Growth and Manufactures of this Country and not one person but discourages the Trade from home', and says 'tis pitty any goods should be brought from England', but fashion preferred what was imported, and the colonial potter found little demand except for useful wares.

In the South [where tobacco was the cornerstone of the finances of Chesapeake society until 1750, followed by wheat and corn; where rice was the staple in Carolina from 1700, indigo from about 1745' the English character of plantation life was strongly marked. The local commodities were exchanged for English luxuries, and except for rude plantation crafts, nothing much was to be expected here. Andrew Duché and the mysterious Samuel Bowen, two early Savannah potters, were marvels who appeared far ahead of their time.

England's suppression of all colonial manufactures was a sternly established policy. General Thomas Gage expressed the official attitude when writing to Lord Barrington in 1772 that it would be 'for our interest to Keep the Settlers within reach of the Sea-Coast as long as we can; and to cramp their Trade as far as can be done prudentially'. But he was unaware to what an extent people had already moved inland, away from the agents who supplied English goods; nor had he perceived the rapid advance made in American manufactures since the French and Indian Wars of 1754-63.

Yet pot makers lagged in this general improvement. Through the colonial years and far beyond, coarse red-clay pottery - jugs and jars, plates and bowls, mugs and milk pans - formed the principal output of small potteries everywhere. New England's glacial clays made excellent redware, which was partly supplemented by grey stoneware from the time of the Revolution, or more extensively after 1800. Always popular, ordinary redware survived the competition offered by cheap and serviceable factory-made wares from the 1830s, and in country districts lasted through the nineteenth century, lingering within present memory.

In kitchen and dairy, or for table use alongside pewter and common woodenware or 'treen', the simple forms of this sturdy folk pottery were washed or splashed with pleasant colour - glazed with browns and yellows, rich orange to salmon pink, copper greens, a brownish black made from manganese. For this the least equipment was needed: a horse-powered mill for grinding and mixing clay, a homemade potter's wheel, a few wooden tools, with perhaps a few moulds as well. The maker might be no more than a seasonal or 'blue-bird' potter who worked when his other affairs permitted, and carried his output by wagon through the near vicinity; or the larger and full-time potshops might employ untrained lads [William Scofield of Honeybrook got 'one skilled potter from every 16 apprentice boys'] or migrant journeyman potters of uncertain grades.

There were no secrets in this simple manufacture. Since 1625-50, at the Jamestown colony, potters everywhere had made useful everyday ware of much the same sorts, in its own time used up, smashed up, never regarded as worth preserving.

Of this class, an early and curious milk pan is credited to Andrew Duché, who advertised [April 1735, the South Carolina Gazette] to supply 'Butter pots, milk-pans, and all other sorts of Earthenware of this country make'. The story of its discovery over a decade ago was told by Ruth Monroe Gilmer in Apollo for May 1947.

Found at Guyton [in the Salzburger area forty-five miles inland from Savannah] this heavy, thick and flat-footed pan was apparently made from riverbank clays, quoting its owner: 'the body densely textured and mottled reddish brown, as if made from shale and ball clay . . . the glaze a clear straw-coloured lead used all over . . . the glazed bottom flat, without rim or ridge of any kind'.

Not long after Duché's time, another Southern pottery was established by a colony of Moravians, [p. 404] in 1753 moved from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, to the wilderness region of Wachovia, North Carolina. Here the United Brethern founded a communal society served by Brother Gottfried Aust as potter. He fired his first kiln at the village of Bethabara in 1756, making redware, pipes, stove tiles, and from 1761 conducted public sales which attracted buyers from a surprising distance [Rice, Shenandoah Pottery, pp. 271-7]. The enterprise was transferred in 1768 to Salem, North Carolina, where by 1774 far superior wares were achieved, and production lasted to around 1830.

Still another venture in this region was the so-called Jugtown Pottery, in a settlement peopled c. 1740-50 at Steeds, North Carolina, by a group of colonists from Staffordshire. Apparently the plainest of 'dirt dishes' were made here [1750?] by Peter Craven, first of his family, and latterly the place became known as Jugtown, for the common vessels it supplied to Southern distilleries. Languished and long forgotten, the pottery was revived in 1917 at a hamlet amusingly named Why Not?:

Far north, New England must have been brimming with small but able potters. In 1775 [says John Ramsay in American Potters and Pottery] the two Essex County, Massachusetts, towns of Danvers and Peabody had seventy-five potters, and there were twenty-two Peabody potters at the Battle of Lexington.

Early New England Potters
Their Wares were given ample and excellent record in Lura Watkins's book [Early New England Potters and Their Wares, Cambridge, MA, 1950] in which the illustrations show what Puritan austerity characterized the general output. Simple and appropriate forms were enough, with richly coloured glazes to satisfy the eye and only with occasional attempts at further decoration.

For the Pennsylvania- 'Dutch' [that is, deutsch or German] Frances Lichten has provided a full report in her Folk Art of Rural Pennsylvania. In the 'Dutch counties' settled in the eighteenth century by Swiss Mennonites, and by Germans from the Palatinate, pottery was made which was in wide contrast to New England work, marked by a love or colour, a play of ideas, and an engaging humour.

The flat Pennsylvania fruit pie dish or poischissel was a distinctive article: or the pots for apple butter called epfel buther haffa, the saucered flowerpots of bluma haffa. Fluted turk's head cake moulds were produced in all sorts and sizes, and there were standing pottery grease lamps not seen in New England, quaint banks and bird whistles, double-walled tobacco jars displaying skillful pierced work. [See Pennsylvania-German Folk Art by Frances Lichten, p . 401]

Shenandoah Valley
Just south of Pennsylvania, a numerous and flourishing group of potters worked throughout the nineteenth century in a hundred-mile stretch of the Shenandoah Valley. Foremost were the Bell family, founded by Peter Bell, who from 1800 to 1845 produced 'erthingwear' at Hagerstown, Maryland, and Winchester, Virginia. His eldest son, John Bell [1800-80], worked 1833-80 at Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, and was followed by five sons who continued the business until 1899. John's brothers, Samuel and Solomon, were in partnership from 1833 at Strasburg, Virginia, where the factory continued until 1908.

Fairly typical of what was made through Ohio and Indiana, where a variety of pottery and stoneware clays were abundant, a washbowl and jug, buff-glazed inside, is stamped on one handle Zoar, on the other 1840. The Society of Separatists [called Zoarites] were one of many religious sects gathered in communal settlements that flowered and died in the nineteenth century, themselves coming in 1817 from Württenberg and prospering in 1819-98 at Zoar, in Tuscarawas County, Ohio. In a long list of trades and crafts practised here, we find weavers and carpenters, a printshop and bindery, a fine blacksmith shop p, and of course a pottery. Red roof tiles [one is dated 1824] are still seen on a few houses, and in 1834 the Society was selling 'porringers' to farm folk in the vicinity. The services of an outsider were engaged, Solomon Purdy, a potter recorded in 1820 at Putnam; in 1840 at Atwater. Until 1852-3 the Zoar associates still produced common brownware, and black- or buff-glazed redware.

Last of the everyday wares, and different from the others, a buff pottery painted [sometimes stenciled] with manganese brown belonged to New Geneva, Pennsylvania. So wh